Behavior Strategies

Positive Behavior Supports: Expectations

enhancePositive expectations and affirmations are an easy way to support classroom behavior. This should not include “don’t” and “no”. Frame written and verbal expectations and directives in the positive. “Feet on the floor” rather than “no feet on the table”. “Quiet mouth” rather than “no talking.” “Nice hands” rather than “don’t touch”. Positive praise, catching them being good, and rewarding appropriate choices are sure to raise the level of compliance in your room. Some positive behavior supports include:

  1. You should give 4 positive verbal affirmations for every one negative correction.
  2. You should make positive statements to your class every 5 minutes throughout the day.
  3. When correcting, state the correction and disengage quickly. Do not get into a power struggle with the student.
  4. Give positive feedback to students when they comply after being corrected for behavior.
  5. Refer to your posted written expectations when you ask a student to comply. Seeing the visual helps support what you are saying.

Posted classroom rules and expectations should be limited to 5 simple directives, stated in the positive. For example:

In this class we –

  • use walking feet
  • raise our hand to ask a question
  • sit crisscross on the carpet
  • keep our feet under the table while working
  • listen attentively

Obviously, for different ages and grades these expectations will be different. For older students instead of:

Class Rules-

  • No fighting
  • Stay out of others lockers
  • Respect your teacher
  • Be polite, honest, and kind
  • No running

Try something like:

We promise to –

  • Keep our belongings orderly
  • Use kind words with our peers
  • Keep our hands to ourselves
  • Keep our feet on the floor
  • Respect the belongings of our peers

The expectation should always be for students and teachers to use positive language when speaking to each other. With teachers modeling this affirmation in their own speech, students are more likely to respect the environment you have created.




Positive Behavior Supports: Autism

Autism-Heart-Button-Pins-600x578-1If you are a general education teacher who has not previously experienced the joy of having a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger Syndrome,  there are a few things you should know before stepping foot into a classroom with this child. The first thing to know is that having had one child on the spectrum means you know how to support that one child. Every child is different. However, there are some strategies which are helpful with many of these students. The most prevalent deficits in a student with Autism are social skills and communication, which can lead to negative behavior. Here are some suggestions:

  • Will do best with information that is very black and white, especially if it’s written and posted. Posting written expectations is a Tier 1 RTI/PBIS strategy.
  • Be direct with your instructions, options have their place, but not when you need specific outcome. You can provide optional locations to complete the work, but the work must still be completed.
  • Don’t ask it as a question unless you’re ready to accept no as an answer. (T – “Can you get started on your math?” S – “No, thank you”).
  • May not understand sarcasm or exaggerations like “I’m dying for a drink” or “my feet are killing me.” Some students will be very concerned about your health after hearing these statements.
  • May not fully understand emotions – this includes facial expressions and body language. Be very clear and direct in your information delivery.
  • May take some time to learn the unspoken rules of the classroom, like when it’s appropriate to sharpen his pencil (not during silent reading or class discussion).  Specific written expectations with visuals are best. Chris over at Autism Classroom News calls this discovering the hidden curriculum.
  • May need space to work away from other students. This may be for focus or even sensory reasons. Sensory processing is a whole other article in itself, but well worth looking into to further. Here is a great resource: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)Resource Center.
  • Possibly thinks in pictures, patterns, and symbols which makes it easier for him to explain without written words. Temple Grandin does a great job of explaining this in her book Thinking in Pictures.

Positive Behavior Supports: Defiance

tug-of-warIn dealing with a child who is typically oppositional or defiant, provide more attention to the students positive behaviors than you do to their negative behaviors. It’s important to notice and praise them quickly before a difficult behavior over shadows the positive one. It’s easy to end up reinforcing the negative behavior if it happens quickly after the positive.

Ignore negative behavior to the greatest extent possible. Obviously, you do not want to allow a student to hurt himself or others, but if a child is dropping paper in the floor or jumping up and down at the back of the room during morning meeting, let them do it. They are seeking attention, and you should not give it to them. When it is necessary to redirect them, disengage quickly. Do not get into a power struggle with defiant children. As Douglas Riley, author of The Defiant Child, put it, “don’t get into a spraying match with a skunk.” Defiant children believe themselves to be equal with adults, telling them that they are not, does not change their defiant way of thinking. A power struggle of this type only gives the student more power, which is what you are trying to avoid.

It’s important to provide wait time for the student to process the request and decide the follow it. Often defiance is made worse by staff who want an immediate response to a demand they have placed. When asking the class to sit, the defiant student does not sit. Next, the child is given a direct instruction to sit and again does not respond. While this is a form of defiance, it is not as serious as the student who tells you “no” when refusing to sit. It’s possible the student needs time to process the request and decide in their mind what sitting looks and feels like before responding. It’s also possible that the student does not want to sit in response to an adult directive, though they may not be opposed to sitting in general. Often, when the adult walks away and moves on with class, the student will then comply under what they perceive as their own free will rather than your will.

If removed from the classroom for their behavior, they should not be greeted with shame upon reentry. The fact that they have returned to try again should mean a clean slate and not an opportunity to remind them of previous behavior. Shaming any student is never a good move, but it’s especially detrimental in a situation where the student already thinks they are above or equal to you. A low blow like this proves to them that they are correct in their flawed thinking. You don’t have to like their prior behavior, you just have to let it go.

Don’t take it personally. Defiant behavior has more to do with the student than it has to to with you. The student is struggling with many things, and while you may be the person initiating some of the things that seem to cause these struggles, the issue is still not you. As long as you are using necessary strategies to support the student, you are not part of the problem, but you may be the only person able to help the student get past it.

Of course there are a few non-negotiable behaviors including when students distract the class with their verbal behavior, destroy or attempt to destroy property should be removed from the room. These are behaviors that should be addressed by the office and not expected to be addressed by classroom or Specials teachers.

Remember these students are still children who need love and attention as much as all others, if not more. Make time to get to know them and teach them better coping strategies to benefit everyone in their circle.

Positive Behavior Supports: Rapport

classroom_rapport_blog_post_02_960x480First and most important, build rapport with students. Rapport is building a bond with your students that helps them to associate you with positive things. It helps them to feel safe and wanted in your classroom; without this, learning is likely to be more difficult. For some students, learning is not possible in an environment they feel is hostile. Students can read your mood, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other non-verbal cues. Often these cues can incorrectly tell a student that you do not like them or that you are upset with them. When a student feels unwanted in the place where he is expected to be part of a learning team, the students ability to learn is significantly hampered. Additionally, students with learning disabilities, neurological differences, and emotional disorders respond best to adults with whom they have an emotional connection. In order to establish and maintain rapport with students on a daily or even hour by hour basis it is important to:

  • Make eye contact when speaking to a student.
  • Listen attentively to them when they talk to you.
  • Respond with “what I hear you saying is____”.
  • Make connections between your personal experiences and theirs.
  • Take time to clearly explain your expectations.
  • Give students an opportunity to journal when appropriate and respond to their journal entries with respect and concern.
  • Know them well enough to recognize when they are struggling not just academically, but emotionally.

Alphabet of Thankfulness: D is for Daily Routines

Children learn best through repetition. So, it is important to offer repetitive activities for reinforcement of skills you are teaching. In younger grades and in every level of special education, a morning calendar time is important for so many areas of learning. Click here to for more on Morning Meeting – Circle Time.

In addition to  morning meeting or calendar circle, there are other daily routines that students need to be taught. These include social skills and things as simple as toileting or hand washing. When students of any age or level know what is coming next or what is expected of them, they find it easier to focus on what they are doing now. Many times, student misbehavior is caused by perceptions of things to come. To alleviate negative behaviors, students need a routine in which they can relax and know their time frames and boundaries. Some example of these would be as follows:

Toileting Routine:


Obviously you could add more or less to this as needed.

Picture Schedule:


This is a small section of a full day schedule

Hallway Procedures:


Students change the location they are headed to before they leave the room each time.

These picture cards were created in Board Maker, but could easily be created with clip art or by taking actual photo’s of activities and locations. Each has velcro on the back so it can be removed and manipulated as needed.

Alphabet of Thankfulness – B is for Bubbles


first – then board

Today and every day, I am thankful for bubbles. Reinforcers are very important in a classroom of students with Autism Spectrum disorders, or really any classroom. For some students bubbles are a powerful reinforcement solution. Every student in my class responds to bubbles in a positive way, but for some, they are worth doing work that nothing else will motivate them to do. I introduce the bubbles at the same time as I introduce the task to be completed by setting both in front of the student and showing the student a first-then board.

My first-then boards are nothing more than velcro on a laminated page. They should be very simple as to not distract the student from the reason for the choice board; getting them to learn. These work great at home as well. In fact, having students use the same supports at home as they use in the classroom are a powerful aid in their learning process. They learn to follow instructions the same way wherever they are. They begin to realize that Mom, Dad, Teachers, everyone wants them to follow the same task for reward system and it becomes not only easier for the student to follow, but easier for parents and teachers to manage. Most people, including our students, are creatures of habit. The more the habit crosses from school to home, the more quickly they will master it.

So, today I am thankful for bubbles, bouncy balls, fidget boxes, and other powerful reinforcers in my classroom!

First-Then Board FREEBIE!

Teacher Area # 1

Notice I didn’t say, “teacher desk“. That’s because I don’t have one. I started the 12-13 school year with a desk, in fact I finished over half of that school year with a desk, but in the Spring a new student moved into our room who liked to hide under our desks when avoiding work. Actually, this student hid under anything low enough to the ground to effectively conseal him. For some students this is a sensory issue. For example, the light in the room may be too bright for them so they want to put their face or their whole body under something. For others it may just be an avoidance mechanism. Either way, by removing the desk(s) and other items of interest from our room, I was able to assist this student with his ability to make more appropriate choices. What teacher spends much time sitting at a desk anyway? Certainly not one in a self-contained special education classroom.

My little corner of the room

I used to think of my desk as the place where I worked, but I actually work all over the room, not at a specific desk. Getting rid of my desk showed this to me very clearly. Other than the initial discomfort of finding all the things that were originally in my desk drawers that were moved to the filing cabinet, I have not missed having a desk. Honestly, I kind of enjoy not having one. It just took up space that I could better use for student needs. I have played around with different tables; straight, round, and horseshoe. When I moved to this new room, jackpot! There were two horseshoe tables which enabled me to place one in an area that is set up for language arts and one in the math-science area. Both are key spaces for working with multiple students and both areas need this kind of functional table.

There are several key items in the above photo which I would like to point out:

      • Filing cabinets – there are actually two of them back to back which serve a few purposes; separating my area from students at the computer tables, providing an additional place to post items I need to have at an arms reach.

My filing cabinet wall. I saw it on Pinterest!

  • Narrow computer table – I love this table. It just happened to be in my room when I moved to this campus last year and I brought it with me to my new room this year. It is just the right size to hold my computer, phone, binder, etc. and yet narrow enough that a student would not benefit much from crawling under it. Perfect!

My computer desk


Lesson Planning Binder


Substitute Binder

  • Personal effects on the wall and not on tables and shelves – It helps to feel at home in my classroom, especially on days or weeks when I feel like I live there! I recommend putting things up high so that students do not accidentally break or misplace them. Some students would be very sad to have hurt you in that manner, and you too would be sad if you lost something of importance.

My bulletin board filled with mementos and certificates.


Self Crafted sign for the wall – Decorated acrylic letters

It’s important to have your own teacher area, but it’s not important that it looks the way you remember a teachers area from your own childhood. Do what’s best for your students and make it your own!

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